OZ Cabbie September 2014
It never ceases to amaze me how obsessed state governments from both sides of politics have, over the years, been with reforming the taxi industry. They have spent millions on inquiries, surveys, research, forums and think-tanks of leading academics and senior bureaucrats so some transport minister or Premier can announce to the media that he or she is about to introduce major reforms, which will ensure we have a world class taxi service.
Without doubt the most extravagant and ambitious of these pursuits of excellence has been the Victorian Taxi Inquiry headed by Prof. Allan Fels. It took two years and cost about $5 million.
To implement the Fels reforms a new statutory body, the Taxi Services Commission was established. Graeme Samuel, who like Fels is a former chairman of the ACCC, was appointed ‘top dog’. For the past year he has been busy implementing, while adding a few creative touches of his own, with enthusiasm, doggedness and determination. Samuel is nobody’s fool.
Then Uber dropped UberX on Melbourne without warning.
Samuel was outraged that Uber hadn’t discussed UberX with him before its launch. Swift action was taken to show who was boss. A sting operation, “Operation Bow-wow”, was launched in May netting 37 UberX drivers who were each fined $1,700. No action was taken against the company.
Samuel announced that further fines would be issued unless Uber met with him to discuss how UberX might legally fit into the passenger transport mix. Uber management ignored the request and instead announced it would pay the drivers’ fines. The service continued. No further fines were issued and Uber continued to refuse Samuel’s request for a meeting ‘to negotiate a way forward’.
As time passed his snivelling on the Niel Mitchell Show on Radio 3AW, where he seems to have a regular spot, intensified: “Please, please don’t just ignore me. Don’t be so mean. Please come and talk to me! I really love the concept and I’m sure we can find a way to accommodate it”, he seemed to be pleading as UberX continued operating and expanding with utter disregard for the law.
Then finally a breakthrough. On 15 September, The Mandarin, an e-magazine for senior bureaucrats, announced that Uber had finally agreed to meet with the regulator.
The company said in a statement: “We are pleased to be working with Graeme Samuel and the Victorian Taxi Services Commission. Our conversations in other states continue to progress.”
Samuel’s eyes must have welled up with tears of pride, joy, relief and gratitude. They were no longer ‘giving him the finger’.
However, maybe before he gets all carried away with accommodating Uber, he should take note of what has happened to the taxi industry in the company’s home town of San Francisco since UberX and its main competitor ‘Lyft’ started operating there.
The average number of trips per taxi has been on a steady slide - from 24 per shift in March 2012 down to 8 trips this July, according to a report commissioned by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
The pundits say the taxi industry needs to reinvent itself to compete. How? By refusing to pay the government its lease fees? 16 Melbourne WAT drivers have just lost their plates. Not because they refused to pay, but because they couldn’t.
Uber is not a competitor; it’s a predator and a commercial terrorist.